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|Native to||Uganda, Kenya|
|Region||Teso sub-region, parts of Pallisa District and Busia County|
|1.9 million (2002 & 2009 censuses)|
According to the 2002 Uganda population and housing census, over 1.57 million people in Uganda (6.7 percent of the total Uganda population) spoke Ateso. Also, an estimated 279,000 people in Kenya speak the language. Its SIL code is TEO.
There are 22 letters in the Ateso alphabet F,H,Q,V,H,X and Z are not used and ŋ and NY are added. F,H,Q,V,H,X,Z only appear in loan words. The pronunciation guides that follow are for practice only; the correct sounds can only be learned by practice from a teacher or an audio media.
There are five vowels in Ateso
A, E, I, O, U.
These five letters, however, represent more than five sounds, for the letters E, I, O and U have two values each; a "close" value and an "open" value.
Close vowels are pronounced approximately as follows:
- E [e] as in beg (French é): aipet----- to kick
- I [i] as in seat: aidip----- to hit
- O [o] as in Scottish pronunciation of bone (French eau): aimor----- to insult, to abuse
- U [u] as in fool: aikut----- to scratch the earth, to scoop something
Open vowels are pronounced approximately as follows:
- E [ɛ] as in beg (French è): aipet ----- to lay out
- I [ɪ] as in sit: ailid----- to fasten
- O [ɔ] as in gone (or in glory when long): aimor----- to share
- U [ʊ] as in full: aikut -----to blow
- A [a] is pronounced as in art (never short as in ram)
- abal 'to say'
Where the vowels AI or OI stand together, they represent sounds approximating the "i" in bite [ai̯] and "oy" [oi̯] in annoy respectively. In other vowel combinations, both vowels must be given their full values. The "au" in kau -----(behind) is pronounced [ka.u] not [kau̯].
All words ending in a consonant possess a semi-mute or "shadow" vowel after the final consonant, which is not pronounced when the word stands in isolation, but which is pronounced when the word is followed by another word beginning with a consonant:
e.g. The Ateso translation of "the women go to the house" is written:
- elosete aŋor togo ----- the women are going to the house
but is pronounced: elosete aŋoro Togo
If the word following is normally written as one with the preceding word, the "shadow" vowel is not only pronounced but written:
- e.g. elosete aŋoroke togo ----- his women are going to the house
Other examples are given in (vii) below.
There are sixteen consonants and one semi-vowel in Ateso, pronounced approximately as follows:
- B [b] as in bat: bobo -----again
- C [tʃ] as in chat (never as in cat): elacet ----- key
- D [d] as in dog: edou ----- rain
- G [ɡ] as in get (never as in geology): agasia rubbish/trash
- J [dʒ] as in jam: aijar life
- K [k] as in king: ekek door
- L [l] as in let: alalau width
- M [m] as in mat: mam ----- no
- N [n] as in nut: ainu ------ to hug
- ŋ** [ŋ] as in hanger (never as in finger): iŋai ----- who
- NY [ɲ] as in Spanish Señorita: anya ----- grass (plural)
- P [p] as in put: papa ----- father
- R [r] as in rat (should be well rolled): erute ----- gate
- S [s] as in service : aisab ----- to tell lies
- T [t] as in toss: toto ----- mother
- y [j] as in yellow: yoga ----- hello
- W [w] as in win: awasia ----- the end, aiwosa ----- to prosecute
(vi) In words of foreign origin introduced into Teso the missing sound F is replaced by P and the missing sound V by B or P. Z is replaced by S.
- Thus mesa -----table (Kiswahili) becomes e-mesa
- oku-fuga -----to rule (Luganda) becomes ai-puga
It is an invariable rule that two consonants can never stand together in the same word. Both in speech and in writing. When word construction brings two consonants together, either one of the consonants must be dropped or the "shadow" vowel mentioned in sub-paragraph (iv) above must be inserted between the consonants.
E.g. (Omission of one consonant)
- Nen-pe-nen 'just there' is written and pronounced nepenen.
(Insertion of "shadow" vowel)
- ŋon-tuŋa-nan 'every man' is written and pronounced: ŋonituŋanan
- Elacet-kon 'your key' is written and pronounced elacetekon
**Due to the introduction of typesetting & word processing machines, ŋ is now almost entirely written NG. It is only in old literature that ŋ still appears. The fact that in some works the two letters NG are found together in place of ŋ is no exception to the above rules. These two letters are merely an alternative representation of the sound ŋ, in the same way as the letters NY represent one sound. The semi-vowel W, however, can and frequently does follow a consonant:
- aswam work
- ekwam air
The Teso language board's alphabet uses NG in place of ŋ, and also uses ɛ, ɨ, ɔ, and ʉ, as well as the modifier letters ⟨ᵃ, ᵉ, ᵋ, ⁱ, ᶤ, ᵒ, ᵓ, ᵘ, ᶶ⟩.
The correct pronunciation of these letters when formed into words can only be learned by practice. As a general rule, all syllables should be given equal stress, though the stem or root syllable often carries slightly more stress than other syllables. Stress does not, however, affect the length of the vowel stressed or its pitch or tone. It is equally important to note that syllable pitch plays a vital part in correct pronunciation and that many words, which are spelled identically, have a different meanings according to syllable pitch.
- __ ↗ __ élípì ----- I am praying
- ___ ___ ‿ elìpǐ ----- I was praying
- ___ ___ ↗ elipí ----- he/she was praying
|Plosive||p b||t d||c ɟ||k ɡ|
- Vowels are phonetically represented with ATR as [i̘, e̘, o̘, u̘, a̘], [ɐ̘] and RTR as [ɪ̙, ɛ̙, ɔ̙, ʊ̙, a̙].
- [ɐ̘] is heard as an allophone of /a/ with advanced tongue root.
Voiceless vowel sounds are present, strictly occurring in word-final position before a pause, at the end of sentences or when standing alone.
(i) The spelling used in most of the first published Ateso books is in accordance with the official orthography agreed upon by the Ateso Orthography Committee in 1947. It was then accepted as a general principle that all words should be written in full even though normally contracted in speech. It should be particularly noted that a short -a or -e at the end of a word is dropped in speech when the word is followed by a word beginning with a vowel.
- e.g. ekitabo loka etelepat ----- the book of the boy
- is pronounced ekitabo lok' etelepat.
(ii) Recently, it is evident that the spoken language is continuing to move away from the written language especially in most parts of Uganda. This means that some aspects of orthography may well need revision soon.
(iii)While the Iteso of Tororo district in Uganda and Teso district in Kenya retain the letter k in the spoken language, the Iteso in most other areas of Uganda tend to omit it in most of the words.
Ateso in Teso, Kenya & Tororo, Uganda Ateso in Amuria district, Uganda English meaning Akilip lok'asuban ailip loasuban to pray to the creator akinyam emkati/atap ainyam atap to eat bread akimat akile aimat akile to drink milk akitabu lokalaunan eitabo loalaunan a holy book Akote inyamat/inyamen aimo ainyamat to look for food
Hello – yoga
How are you? – Ijai biai (singular), Ijaasi biai (plural)
Fine, and you? – Ejokuna, arai ijo?
Fine – ejokuna
What is your name? – Ingai bo ekon'kiror?
My name is ... – Eka'kiror ...
Name --- Ekiror
Nice to see you. --- Eyalama ewanyun (also: Eyalama aanyun)
See you again --- Awanyunos bobo
Book – Eitabo
Because – Naarai
The first sentence in the bible can be translated as Ageunet, abu Edeke Kosub akwap keda akuj ("In the beginning God made the earth and the heavens" lit. "the down and the up").
Gender and noun prefix
Every noun in Ateso has a prefix which varies according to the gender of the noun or according to whether the noun is singular or plural. Nouns (in the singular) starting with "E" or "O" are usually masculine. Those starting with "A" are feminine while those that start with "I" are neuter. See table below for details.
|e.g.||etelepat → itelepai
(boy → boys)
|apese → apesur
(girl → girls)
|ikoku → idwe |
(child → children)
The only exception to the above rule are certain nouns denoting relationships and directions.
e.g. toto ----- mother; papa ----- father; mamai ----- uncle; inac ----- sister ; ija ----- aunt
- kide ----- east; too ----- west; ŋalakimak (or agolitomei) ----- south; nyakoi ----- north
|pronoun or adjective||examples|
|ece, ace, ice – other, another;
ngol (m) or ngin (f,n) – every
edio (m), adio (f),
ediope (m), adiope (f) – one
|ecetunganan – another man; aceberu – another woman; |
icetunganan -another person; icetunga -other people
ediotunganan -any man; adiopese -any girl; idiokoku – any child
adiopeberu – one woman; ediope kiliokit bon -only one man
The following is a general classification of most nouns.
The masculine nouns are:
(i) Names of male beings:
e.g. ekingok – dog
- ekoroi ----- he-goat
- emong ----- bull
- etelepat/esapat ----- boy
- Ekue ----—fox
- Ekokor ----—cock
(ii) Names of most trees and fruit
e.g. eloa* – mvule tree (* now generally referred to as emapule )
- enimu ----— lemon
- etaget ----— banana
- emucuuga ----— an orange
(iii) Names of insects:
e.g. esirut – mosquito
- emukuny ----— black ant
- ekonyelet ----— beetle
- ecwarenit ----— bed-bug
- eidepit ----—flea
(iv) Names of non-indigenous liquids:
e.g. ecaai ----— tea
- akaawa** ----— coffee (** derived from the Arabic word qahwa)
- ebia ----— beer
- ebino** ----— wine (** ewain is also accepted )
The feminine nouns are:
(i) Names of female beings:
e.g. akingok – bitch
- akinei ----— she-goat
- apese ----— girl
- Akokor ----—hen
(ii) Names of languages and countries:
e.g. Ateso ----— the Teso language
- Amusugun ----— the English language
- Alulatin ----— the Latin Language
- Amugana ----—The Ganda language (or Ganda women)
(iii) Names of indigenous liquids:
e.g. ajon ----—local cereal brew
(iv) Abstract nouns:-
e.g. ajokus----—goodness (*also ajokis, ajokisu are used depending on the area)
- amina ----- love
- aojau ----—height
- alalau ----—width
- ajijim ----—tastiness
- apianis ----—tastelessness
- anyunyura ----—anger
(v) Verbs used as nouns:
- e.g. alosit ----- going
- abunere ----- coming
- aisiom ----- reading
- aisom ----- jumping
The neuter nouns are:
(i) Names of neuter or generic objects:
e.g. ituŋanan ----- person (sex unknown)
- irotin ----- roads/ways
(ii) Names of diminutive objects:
e.g. ikiŋok ----- puppy
- ipese ----- baby girl
- Imoru ----- pebble
- imiot ----- chick
- imukeru ----- baby
(i) To form the plural the ending of the noun is changed. This change may consist of the omission of the last syllable, the addition of another syllable or syllables, or the alteration of the last syllable or syllables:
Plural formation example omission: amukat (shoe) -amuk (shoes); atipet (bead) – atipe (beads); addition: akan (hand) – akanin (hands); akwap (country)- akwapin (countries) alteration: apese (girl) – apesur (girls); ekek (door)- ikekia (doors);
(ii) In the case of masculine nouns the noun prefix also changes as shown in the table on noun prefix above.
(iii) These changes in the endings of nouns are so irregular that it is not worth while trying to formulate rules for the formation of plurals.
(iv) Certain nouns, however, which are derived from verbs, form their plurals according to rules;
(a) Nouns denoting an agent of action (a person who does the action of the verb) form a singular ending in -an or -on and a plural ending in -ak or -ok:
e.g. ekamejan – hunter ; ikamejak – hunters; ekecokon – herdsman; ikecokok – herdsmen;
- ekadukon -a builder; ikadukok -builders; ekatubon – judge; ikatubok -judges.
(b) Nouns denoting something which does or, is done, form a singular ending in -et or -etait and a plural ending in -eta:
e.g. elacet – (a thing which loosens) key; ilaceta – keys; arapetait – cover arapeta -covers;
(v) Some nouns have no singular and exist only in the plural:
e.g. akipi—-water; ajony – local brew; asinge – sand; ajo – sleep; ileic – shame
Other nouns have no plural and exist only in the singular;
e.g. ekuron – ashes; akoloŋ—sun; adam – brain; eduan – weeds
(vi) Abstract nouns and names of diseases, as in English, have no plural.
e.g. aiyalama -happiness; amin -love.
(vii) Some nouns form their plural from other roots:
e.g. aberu – woman, aŋor -women; ikoku -child, iduwe – children.
(viii) Some nouns, in addition to the normal plural, form a generic plural by adding -sinei to the plural form:
e.g. etuŋanan - man, ituŋa - men; ituŋasinei - mankind
- akwap - country, akwapin - countries, akwapisinei - the world (n dropped for euphony).
There is no definite or indefinite article in Teso. Aberu means "a woman" or "the woman" according to the context.
Adverbs clarify the action of a verb.Interrogative adverbs usually follow the verb they qualify.
- e.g. Elosit nesi ai? where did he go?
But if the interrogative adverb is strengthened by the particle BO, the adverb must precede the verb
- e.g. aibo ejaas itelepai ? (Where are the boys?) =ejaas itelepai ai? , but all the other adverbs follow the verb.
Adverbs of place
nen =there (not far off)
- e.g. aibo ejai eka'kalaamu? Where is my pencil?; Ejai nen = it's there.
Ngina = over there (at a distance)
- e.g. Aibo ejai toto? Where is mom; Ejai ngina = (she's) over there.
Lailo, laije =this way, that way.
- e.g. Kobia lailo, mam ilosi ngina =come this way, don't go there; Kobongo laije, mam ibuni lailo = Go back there, don't come this way.
Juwai/Juwayi = at the back of / that way/that side (usually behind something)
- e.g. Elosit papa juwai =Dad has gone to the other side / Dad has gone to the rear
Ajesan = down there.
- e.g. Aeka je ajesan =He's gone down there
Nelwana/ne alwanan =far off
- e.g. Alot onac ameja nelwana = (my) brother has gone hunting in a far place
Eyapye/eyapiei/eyapie = near
- e.g.Eyapie ne elosit ngesi = he/she has gone nearby (to a near place)
- e.g. Ejai amunyu toma ocupa = the salt is inside the bottle;Eroko Yakobo ejai toma agoola ke = James is still inside his room
Kiding =in the middle/between
- e.g. Ejai eyapesi ka kiding na eiduka kede ekanisa = my office is between the shop and the church;Ibirokina ekitoi kiding na erot = the tree has fallen in the middle of the road
Kau = behind
Ngaren (na) = in front (of)
- e.g. Ngaren na ataker = In front of the boat
Osiep = near/on the side of/beside
- e.g. Ikunyu ber ijo osiep ka = Please come near me (move closer)
Diye = very close
- e.g. Anu inyo ilosia ijo diye do abongun kede akan? = Why did you go nearby and return empty-handed?
teten = (to the) right
- e.g. Ibelokin teten = turn to the right
Kediany = left
- e.g. Ejaasi kesi kediany = They're on the left (hand side)
Kide = East
Too = West
Nyakoi = North
Agolitomei / Ongalakimak = South
Ateso numerals are from ones place to hundredth place. Numerals upwards from one thousand are borrowed from other languages.
(i) Numbers from one to five are the basis of the whole numerical system in Ateso. Six (6) is literally translated as 5+1 (five and one), 7 as 5+2 (five and two), etc. In the same way 16 is 10+5+1, 17 is 10+5+2, 21 is 20+1, 26 is also 20+5+1, etc.
(ii) Numerals agree in gender with the noun they define:
e.g. itelepai iuni three boys, ikekia iuni three doors, imeesan iuni three tables
- apesur auni three girls, aturo auni three flowers, iduwe iuni three children
(iii) Numerals always follow the noun. ediope (one) can however, precede, in which case the noun prefix is dropped.
e.g. edioperot (or erot ediope) one road/way; adiopeberu one woman;
- angor auni three women, irotin iuni three roads/ways
|2||iyarei||aarei||as in masculine|
|16||itomon akany'kape||atomon akany'kape||"|
|17||itomon akany'kaare||atomon akany'kaare||"|
|18||itomon akanyauni||atomon akanyauni||"|
|19||itomon akany aoŋon||atomon akany aoŋon||"|
|20||akais aare||as in masculine||"|
|21||akais aarei kanudiope||"||"|
|60||akais akany kapei||"||"|
|101||akwatat kanu diope||"||"|
Ordinal numbers are formed from cardinal numbers by prefixing the relative forms lok- (m), nak- (f), yenik-(n) as appropriate, to the masculine form of the numeral and by adding -et after the numeral.
e.g. akany five, nakikanyet fifth (feminine singular)
- iuni three, lokiuniet third (masculine singular)
- iyarei two, yenikiyareit second (neuter singular)
|6th||loikanyet ape||naikanyet ape||yenikanyet ape|
Thus, nakikanyet is pronounced naikanyet, etc.
Ateso has taken a number of loanwords, primarily from English and Swahili languages.
Words marked with an asterisk (*) indicates that the last letter in the Ateso word is silent.
|Fax Machine||Afakis Mashin|
|Record Player||Arekod puleya|
|CD Player||Asidi puleya|
|DVD player||Adividi puleya|
++The Ateso word for a telephone that most Ateso speakers are familiar with is the word "Esimu" which comes from Luganda.
- Ateso at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
- "Uganda -- Ethnic Groups". www.africa.upenn.edu. Retrieved 2020-05-30.
- "Teso. A language of Uganda". 9 July 2007. Retrieved 3 September 2010.
- "2002 Uganda population and housing census" (PDF). Uganda Bureau of Statistics. October 2006. Retrieved 3 September 2010.
- Kitching, Rev. A. L : "A handbook of Ateso language", London, 1915
- An Introduction to the Ateso Language, 1956, Fr – Hilders, J. H.; Lawrence, J. C. D.
- The Bantu languages, Derek Nurse, Gérard Philippson, (Routledge Language Family Series, 4), pp 214
- A Guide to the Standardised Orthography of Atɛsɔ. Kampala: Atɛsɔ Local Language Board. 2014.
- Barasa, David (2017). Ateso Grammar: A Descriptive Account of an Eastern Nilotic Language. University of Cape Town.
- Report of the Ateso Orthography Committee., Uganda, Ateso Orthography Committee, 1947, Printed by the Govt. Printer
- Carol Myers Scotton (University of Nairobi), John Okeju (Manjast High School (Uganada) (1972). "Loan word integration in Ateso". Anthropological Linguistics. 14 (9): 368–382. JSTOR 30029119.
- Barasa, David. 2022. "Pronouns and Pronominal Alignment in Ateso." Arusha Working Papers in African Linguistics, 4(1): 100-114.
- Loyola, Apuda Ignatius (2007). English-Ateso Pocket Dictionary Strategic Outcomes Inc., 274 pp. ISBN 9970-840-03-7.